When Dr. Dre departed from Death Row Records to form Aftermath Entertainment in 1996, one of the rappers he intended to build his new label with was veteran Compton rapper King Tee. Tee appeared on “Dr. Dre presents… The Aftermath” (the compilation that was to create a buzz for the label), and soon hit the studio to record an album. But Aftermath had trouble getting off the ground. Fans were hesitant to embrace the smoother, wiser Dre who re-discovered his love for R&B, tried to stay away from the drama the rap world was giving him (“East Coast/West Coast Killas”, “Been There Done That”), and had yet to find a superstar that would take Aftermath to the next level. And so King Tee’s “Thy Kingdom Come” suddenly became the defining release that would determine if Dre still had it. Then, in September ’98, “The Source” gave the album 3 1/2 mics, which was still a good rating, but obviously not good enough for someone (Dr. Dre) with such a track record.
Partner Interscope became nervous as well. Previously, it had been dropped from Time Warner when the media giant was accused of poisoning young minds with violent movies and music by the likes of Delores C. Tucker. Subsequently, Universal bought half of the company, and when the merging mania of the late ’90s was in full swing, Seagram bought PolyGram (including Universal). Billions were being spent, leading to dramatical downsizing efforts across the music business. Guess who had to pay the price? Artists like King Tee, whose “Thy Kingdom Come” was finally shelved. Instead, 1998 saw the release of a greatest hits compilation of his Capitol years (“Ruff Rhymes”) he had no say in. And then there was Eminem. And, finally, “The Chronic 2001”. After first testing the waters in 1996, it took three years to erase any doubts that Dre was back in business. Another three years later we’re STILL waiting for Aftermath to drop anything other than Eminem albums or that Truth Hurts jawn. As for King Tee, who once had much of Aftermath’s success depending on him, he ended up just being one of “Some L.A. Niggaz” on “The Chronic 2001”.
In 2002, however, quite unexpectedly, the album that was once advertised for a summer ’98 release, is available. Maybe this should be called a semi-official release. Amazon carries it. It was licensed to a European distributor. Someone out there thinks he has the right to sell these songs. With a no-name entity called Greedy Green Entertainment claiming the copyright to these songs, let’s just hope there isn’t something fishy going on and the artists involved get a piece of the pie. But there are several of the typographical errors that ever so often seem to plague bootlegs: DJ Quik turns into DJ Quick, Shaquille O’Neal becomes Shaquille O’Neil, Bud’da is Budda, Playa Hamm gets cut short to Playa Ham, Stu-B-Doo to Stu, King Tee himself, contrary to all of his previous releases, is now just King T, and several song titles from the tentative tracklisting of the original release underwent small but significant name changes: “Squeeze Yo Balls” turns into “Skweez Ya Ballz”, “Money” into “Monay”, “The Chron” into “Da ‘Kron”, “Real Raw” into “Reel Raw”. While the sound quality is top-notch, it certainly does +look+ a bit suspicious, including the drawn cover picture that shows a turkey (yup) in full big baller mode, jewerly, top hat, cigar, big fat grin and all.
But the fact remains that on this album 8 tracks are credited to Dr. Dre, whereas “The Eminem Show” contains only 3 such tracks. Of course, that doesn’t say much about either of these albums. Except for how far Em has really come, being able to maintain his status without too much of the good doctor’s help. But you would think that, promoted right, “Thy Kingdom Come” could reach more people than it does now. There was talk of putting out a double disc, some sort of old testament/new testament thing, where a totally new record would complete the Aftermath album. But with “Thy Kingdom Come” released, that option is gone. So until the King will read his final testament to us (his allegedly last album coming out on Ruthless), “Thy Kingdom Come” is the joint to check out.
For the few Tila fans out there, “Thy Kingdom Come” definitely marks a departure from the cool-ass, carefree persona that made him such a standout figure in West Coast rap. To put it short, the roguish rapper that fathered the Likwit Crew is replaced by a more sober, more mainstream West Coast playa. On the surface, not much has changed. Tee is still and will always be representing Compton, California. But the words coming out of his mouth are the same words that came out of almost every rapper’s mouth around that time. Success suddenly becomes a keyword in Tee’s rhymes. He’s “the last big baller standing.” He’s “straight ’bout it / buildin’ ideas with self-made millionaires to get the dancefloors crowded.” From leaving MCA where nobody cared for him to Dre asking him to help him with his new label, King Tee was automatically anticipating big rap star status, when in fact he wouldn’t be able to get his name out for several years. That’s how quick fate changes.
It’s easy to imagine that having access to Dre’s musical ‘chronic’ clouded the King’s mind. “Da ‘Kron” is chock-full of his hopes: “I got the chron’, talkin’ ’bout the bomb,” he proclaims, re-assuring himself twice that “Aftermath fixed me with that shit that won’t fail,” “Dr. Dre laced me with that shit that won’t fail.” Obviously, the vet finally saw his time coming: “You hoes ain’t knowin’ about the years that I paid dues, hoes that I ran through / Niggas askin’: Goin’ platinum? I plan to.” Of course many rap artists mention platinum sales in their rhymes without ever achieving them, but see, King Tee was not really known to engage in that sort of talk before. He was more interesting than that. But now he went and made a song that let the singer in the chorus wail about the root of all evil, while he claimed he had “a gang of that shit.” Ironically, Dre’s verses on “Monay” possess more substance as he continues in his ‘been there, done that’ mode:
“I dreamed of hittin’ licks when I first got in the mix
way back when DJ’s was heavy in the crates for breaks
And ain’t a damn thing changed
but me movin’ out the firin’ range to a plushed out estate
Small technicalities, y’all heard for years
niggas with they problems always out to battle me
But I gets my swerve on, don’t give a fuck
it’s just a nigga talkin’ shit about his bullshit salary”
As these two lay back and comtemplate the nature of money over a lavish track, it seems as if they had made themselves at home and were ready for retirement. Far seem the days when an invigorated Dre would prepare to take the rap world by storm once again. Working with each other may have been a dream come true for the both of them, but maybe it just didn’t turn out to be that inspiring? Fact is that “Thy Kingdom Come” sounds strangely complacent. Boredom on a high level, if you will.
Yet having always been in touch with the streets, King Tee knows that the fattest pig has the most to fear. On what may be the best cut on the album, the Bud’da-produced “Stay Down”, he introduces us to an influential street figure he would look up to when he was younger. “A veteran, and although I seemed mesmerized / I glanced, and saw the look of fear in his eyes,” he recounts. The story itself leads to an unspectacular ending, with the boss player moving out of the reach of his enemies, but the simple tale is magnified by a heartfelt chorus, an urgent plea to stop the bloodshed. In a symbolic act, Tee dedicates “Stay Down” to two dead gangbangers he knew, one Crip, one Blood.
Elsewhere, the rapper who always refused to make any gang-affiliation known, is not as quick to distance himself from banging as he did on 1993’s “Tha Triflin’ Album”. “Where’s T” sees him spitting lines like “Besides bustin’ rhymes I’m real good at doin’ crimes / infected with the code of the street and gang signs” and “The original Likwit Ruff Rhymer / protected by the gat and bandana.” People not familiar with this man might mistake him for one of the many rappers who wear their gang-affiliation literally on their sleeve. Not that King Tee ever avoided the subject. In fact, “Time to Get Out” (1990) and “Black Togetha Again” (1993) both urgently spoke out against the senseless killings. Tee has not taken the escape route either. As he recalls in “Speak on It”:
“It’s many niggas drinkin’ that gangsta juice
but I done seen none of y’all when it was time to truce
and I was at Leuders Park squashin’ beef with opponents
while your ass was at your mansion eatin’ pussy, punk, speak on it”
And speak on it he does, preaching the gangsta gospel over a variety of funk-infused tracks. Like he always did. Except that his vocals never sounded as clear as they do here, commanding the clear, booming production with his trademark tone.
But then it’s collaboration time. Ant Banks laces him and Too $hort with one of his fat mid-’90s beats to bounce down the avenue (“Big Boyz”). “Skweez Ya Ballz” has him getting the party started with Snoop-soundalike Baby S over a quirky club track courtesy of Battlecat:
“Peep it how we deal it, keep it if you feel it
all the set-trippin’ kill it, it only takes a minute
for King Tee to set the party at ease
Grab the Silver Satin, roll up some weed
snatch a hoodrat with a proper-ass weave
and dash to the floor and boogie with the rest of the gees”
The only problem with this one may be that those who don’t have any balls to squeeze might feel left out when being told by the chorus to do so. But ladies definitely will respond when “Let’s Make a V” comes on. Over one of Quik’s trademark plushed out beats and backed by El DeBarge’s velvety vocals, the West Coast trinity of King Tee/DJ Quik/Frost prove that them oldtimers can still get down. Another collabo that was waiting to happen has two of Compton’s most ardent representers teaming up. Stu-B-Doo oversees King Tee and MC Ren meeting up on “2 G’s From Compton”, which certainly doesn’t let down. Under the guidance of Dre Brooklyn rapper Sharief (of “L.A.W. (Lyrical Assault Weapon)” fame, here credited as Killa Ben) assists Tee on the hard-hitting “Reel Raw”. A much more high-profile guest-appearance turns out to be Shaq just uttering a Death Row-styled “switch” and joining in on the chorus of Bud’da’s “Shake da Spot”. Also produced by Bud’da, like his other two tracks based on nothing more than a few piano notes, is the surprising “G Luciano/King Tee finale.” Well, Tray Deee’s on it too, but the real scoop is that Kool G Rap flew in to lace the track with some New York-style mob manoeuvres. Bud’da hits the right notes as he laces the East Coast-sounding track with an extensive Parliament vocal sample. Another track that seems to combine East and West influences is “6 N’na Moe’nin”. The title may make reference to the Ice-T classic of the same name, but the story it tells is strongly reminiscent of The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Warning”. Tee even does the mimicking voices thing while Dre samples from “Warning” and “One More Chance”.
But overall, “Thy Kingdom Come” is the most West Coast-sounding of Tee’s albums. However, it certainly wouldn’t have broken any new ground, musically, the way other L.A. albums (by DJ Quik or Tha Eastsidaz) have later on. It’s especially hard to see this album produce any hits the way Death Row churned them out on a monthly basis. For some reason, the Step-produced “Got it Locked”, a track with good chances of crossing over, is absent from this release. “Step On By” is too close to the sampled original, “Skweez Ya Ballz” has the wrong title, Quik gets ignored anyway. Besides, when “Thy Kingdom Come” gets really good, it’s probably too good for the masses to appreciate (“Stay Down”, “Monay”, the Mike Dean-produced “The Original”).
Don’t get me wrong, “Thy Kingdom Come” is a potent album, but it ultimately fails to live up to Dre/Aftermath AND King Tee standards. It’s not like King Tee wasn’t willing, on the contrary. This guy felt his time had come, and he was ready to ride: “Aftermath, I represent it to the fullest.” Success seemed certain. Even Quik came to toast: “And now we’re talking autographs, tears and laughs / champagne with King Tee going platinum on Aftermath.” And Dre served up some beats heavy with the sharp funk he concocted on rare occasions in the mid-’90s. Still, some of it may have been too shiny and lacked the grit and the spunk of his three biggest post-“Chronic”/”Doggy Style” tracks, “California Love”, “Keep Their Heads Ringin'” and “Natural Born Killaz”. Even with talented in-house producers like Bud’da, Stu-B-Doo and Mel-Man (who is not credited here) to help him out, the impression of a stagnant Dre cannot be entirely dismissed. When it all seemed so simple. Says Tee in the very last lines of this album: “Run and tell ’em, King Tee’s bailin’ with Dre / Represent yourself true, your shit’ll bump all day.” Admittedly, a lot of things went wrong with this album, the most of which Tee and Dre had no influence over. Then again, “Thy Kingdom Come” never had to stand the test of being properly released.